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The Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy Paperback – October 1, 2002

4.6 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Magee, a British writer on philosophy, music, and theater criticism and a former member of Parliament, has made a remarkable contribution to the already extensive literature on the life and works of Wagner. His central thesis that Wagner's intense study of philosophy had a profound influence on his compositions is lucidly presented in 17 chapters, each rich with historical detail and intellectual discourse. The chapters proceed in rough chronological sequence; we first read of the young Wagner as a left-wing revolutionary and end with his mature, complex relationship with Nietzsche. In the central part of the book, Magee provides an overview of Schopenhauer's philosophy and reveals the extent to which Wagner completely overhauled his own values in order to embrace that thinker's world view. Readers to whom all this may appear somewhat arcane and daunting will be pleasantly surprised by the eminently readable nature of the book. Magee's text is not only illuminating but also highly personal and enormously engaging. The lengthy appendix, in which he tackles head-on the thorny issue of Wagner's anti-Semitism, is a brilliant, balanced discussion and is alone worth the price of the book. Throughout, Magee cites myriad secondary sources but includes no bibliography. Despite this omission, this work is highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. Those readers already passionate about Wagner's works will find new reasons to appreciate them, and those who have avoided his music will find the book a revelation and may be inspired to rethink their phobia. Larry Lipkis, Moravian Coll., Bethlehem, PA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Because of Wagner's reputation as a proto-Nazi, many music lovers avoid his work-- or enjoy it as a guilty pleasure. Yes, Wagner did indulge in odious anti-Semitism, and, yes, Hitler adored his music. But Magee convincingly demonstrates that Wagner kept his anti-Semitism out of his music and that most Nazi leaders regarded the composer's works as antithetical to their movement. The young Wagner advocated the radical politics of the left, and when he subsequently abandoned the revolution, he did so not to embrace the politics of the right but rather to repudiate all political thought in favor of metaphysics. Those metaphysics bear the distinctive marks of Schopenhauer, credited by Magee with inspiring the composer to otherwise unattainable operatic feats (in, for instance, Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal). Yet unlike any other creative artist, Wagner contributed as much to philosophy as he took from it, decisively shaping his friend Nietzsche's views through sheer strength of character. A carefully researched account of a fiery personality who transmuted daunting ideas into compelling art. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (October 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080507189X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805071894
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #296,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
There aren't many composers whose philosophical views are of such crucial, and controversial, importance as Wagner's. But this is not because Wagner was an important philosopher.
As Magee shows, Wagner's thinking should not be too readily dismissed. Wagner was no philosophical dilletante. He was awesomely well-read in the philosophy, philology and linguistics of his day, in addition to his vast reading in literature ancient and "modern", in history, myth, and the history of myth, and much more. And he was an intelligent and sometimes extraordinarily perceptive man, whose erudition was not just for showing off with but of vital importance to his thought and work.
However Wagner believed, wrongly, that his intuition was as sure a guide in the world of ideas as it was in music and drama. So his philosophical writings follow his intuitions, not his reasoning - indeed he seems to avoid reasoning, except in small bursts, out of principle. His writing is therefore irrational and self-contradictory, obscure in the worst German manner: neither original (except accidentally, where he achieves originality by misunderstanding a source, particularly Schopenhauer), nor lucid, nor "true". "True", that is, in the sense of being based on "matters of fact or reason".
So his philosophy is not, despite what Wagner probably thought, of much importance in its own right. It is mainly important because it permeates and influences his major works, which are among the few most endlessly fascinating human creations of any kind.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book, 380 pages in length, is a perfect book for those people who love Wagnerian operas and want to learn more without having to plough through a heavy tome which 9 out of 10 readers never finish. The author, Bryan Magee, intelligently wites to the lay reader. His explanation of philosophers such as Nietzche, Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer and others who helped form Wagner's thinking, is easy to follow and brilliantly shows how Wagner developed and merged philosophy and music. Wagner changed music. One cannot recommend this book more highly to those interested in learning what made one of the great composers tick and how he is often misunderstood. It is a treasure trove of information and is well laid out. A great read. Bravo, Mr. Magee.
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Format: Hardcover
I went into this book knowing the Wagner, Schopenhauer/Buddhist and Nietzche connection. This book was a major explicator of all these themes.
The book's greatest highlight for me was a precis on Kant's philosophy and how it linked with Schopenhauer's eventual world view. The concepts of phenomena and noumena are well explained, and there is a brilliant vision of the occidental philosophical grasp of reality in the romantic era. Certainly, these German philosphers were brilliant and sufficiently detached to transcend their cultural outlook and fly over it.
To me the book did not wade deeply enough into Nietzche and Schopenhauer but this was obviously not the author's objective and his treatments though non voluminous are comprehensive. On the other hand the book is also a eulogy of Wagner and was certainly a bit subjective as the author pours over some of the operas and gives a great deal of over zealous details, which a reader unfamiliar with the stuff may want to pass over in preference to actually getting the CD (telling us what to buy would have spared most of the description).
The author uses the book as a stage from which to demolish Wagner's neo-Nazi credentials and he gives the low down as to why Nietzche abandoned Wagner, using the composer to enhance Nietzche's reputation at the same time as ridiculing the composer later on.
Whether Wagner was really that philosophical compared to any other great composer (the philosophical interests of which are less known) as the author contends is debatable. That the composer drew on the finest German philosophy and myth available to him is not in doubt.
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Format: Hardcover
This is THE book on Wagner that I hoped would be written one day and which I knew could be written. The author has no use for post-Holocaust axe-grinding or for any of our various ideologizing modes of regard. Neither does he indulge in any of the widespread but ultimately superficial KULTURGESCHICHTLICH approaches in which Wagner is but one more symbol-player to be pigeon-holed and arranged in a trajectory tour of the modern imagination (much like the props in Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's "Parsifal" film), nor does he dish up Wagner with a sideorder of Marxist criticism. Instead what you get is Wagner considered as a living, breathing, thinking, AND creating human being, a real man (no mere puppet of impersonal cultural forces here!) who when he encountered ideas and people reacted to them in the completely unique way that his personality (like it or not!) demanded.

In a way one can only appreciate this book if he has already spent some time ploughing through even a fraction of the tendentious trash in print that attempts to deal with this man (e.g. Gutman, Millington, even M. Owen Lee at times). If you have done that, then you will really be in a position to enjoy what Bryan Magee has done, how he has done it, and what a tremendous debt we owe to him for presenting to us Wagner the man in all of his outrageous and openly contradictory complexity. This is a book for people who are interested in learning more closely what kind of man Wagner actually was (that, for example, he possessed a most 'commanding' personality but yet what that simple fact might mean in real terms, and why that in itself might be a petty thing to hold against him in our age of pathologically inflated egos and equally calculating self-interest). And Mr.
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